Report by Graham Stead: Following our first attempt at a snow race last year we decided to go for something a little more taxing this year, especially as Ann’s friend and fellow Otley AC member Gloria Jackson was over on holiday and keen to sample some snow running. The Pont D’Espagne snow race takes place at Cauterets cross county skiing resort on the France / Spain border so you are already starting at an altitude of 1500 metres without allowing for the 400m of climbing during the race. With race numbers restricted to 200 max for the two distances available 10k or 20k we entered early for the 10k, fearing a similar scramble for places as Chevin Chase, Brass Monkey etc. We ended up with race numbers one two and three !! The races were however full up by the entry closing date.
Joined by our ex-pat friend Rachael (Mercia Fell Runners) we arrived at the start to find a very young fit looking bunch of competitors and slightly worryingly discovered from the entry list that Ann, Gloria and Rachael were the oldest 3 ladies in the race (by a fair few years). Obviously snowy mountain running has not yet been discovered by fun runners over here and possibly deemed not suitable for us old folk.
Not to worry though, conditions were fabulous for the race with a clear blue sky and temperatures forecast at 18 degrees. Unfortunately the recent warm spell had meant that the snow on parts of the course had crystalised so it was like running in soft deep sand in many places. Having checked out the course last month our team aim had been to start quickly and get ourselves in a good position by the time we reached the first single track climb up through the woods, 400m from the start. Unfortunately everyone else in the race had the same idea so after a mad dash up the starting hill we had to join an orderly queue for the next half mile or so until the course opened out. No PB’s today then.
The first 6k or so were mainly climbing and the combination of altitude, soft snow and steep hills sapped every ounce of energy. It came as a great relief to us all when we reached the high point of the course and a sharp right saw us hurtling down a fast ski run. Every so often however you hit a soft patch of snow where your leg disappeared down a hole, bringing your body to a jarring halt.
By this point in the race a small group of runners that Gloria was following had missed a directional arrow sending them higher into the mountains. Luckily they managed to correct themeselves before reaching the “Welcome to Spain” signs but it did add about 10 minutes to their times. Ann also lost a bit of time at the turning point as she got hungry and basically stopped for a picnic.
After one final sting in the tail, up and down another hill and ski run there was a good solid run into the finish where onlookers were sat out sunbathing. Lots of free wine and food followed along with a chance to enjoy the amazing scenery and fantastic atmosphere but unfortunately no Vets prizes as they probably didn’t expect any to enter. Rachael made the best start up the first hill and was rewarded with a finishing time well ahead of the rest of us, 59th in 1.11.27.
I finished 80th in 1.18.09 just 40 minutes+ outside my PB. Ann was 93rd in 1.25.26 (1st and only vet 3) and Gloria 103rd in 1.41.46 (first and only Vet 2). Winner finished in 47.51
A quote from Gloria at the Finish – “Wow, that was tough. Can we do it again next year”.
We will definitely be returning but with no plans to try the 20k